How a portfolio can help with writer’s block

portfolioOne of the many points Stephen Jones made in his talk at LONCON3 (Why writer’ need a Plan B) was that writers should adopt a portfolio approach. This is very sound advice and something I am long overdue blogging about. I will also wander past Babylon – seat-belts fastened, all aboard!

What’s a portfolio?

This just means having more than one project on the go. Yes there are writers that sit down, work at one thing for two years, it gets published and they walk into fame, glory and money. For the rest of us a portfolio makes good sense. This is not only the portfolio of past projects (which is one thing this blog provides for me) but also a portfolio of projects I am working on. Working on several projects has pros and cons, summarised in the following table:

Pros Cons
You have a range of successes to draw on and a more even cash flowYou always have something to do

You can mix and match the writing tasks with proofreading, editing and marketing

It keeps you flexible

It makes you more interesting as it gives you something to talk about when networking

You dilute your time across multiple thingsThere is a risk you never finish any project

Your network hears about the next project more than the one you have finished

If you follow a few authors (I mean established not emerging) you will find they will be working on several things. They may not broadcast it but in-between the new novels every 18 months there will also be short stories coming out and varied articles. This gives even the most well-known authors a continued flow of successes. It also helps with their brand and marketing.

This is one reason I am spending so much time producing collections of short stories (eg Three Drops in Time).

How does this help with writer’s block?

I talk about how creative techniques can help with writer’s block in my book Opening the Creativity Diamond. Having a portfolio can help in many ways.

The first is a two-edged option – if you are blocked on one project you can take some time on another. You can still be productive even if not where intended. This does run the risk that a particular project never gets to the top of the pile.

If you have a half-day or whole day to work you can split your time across several projects and several tasks. If a certain piece needs proof-reading and that is your personal weakness, give that one hour of the day then spend the rest marketing, plotting, editing and so on. I also find that having a portfolio of projects on the go works well as:

  • I spend an hour proofreading a chapter
  • I then spend a couple of hours on other tasks on other projects
  • I then edit the project I previously proofread. I find this makes me very productive.

[pullquote]a reserve of work[/pullquote]

Another advantage to a portfolio is that you build up a reserve of work you can keep drawing on. Even part-worked plots, odd scenes or rejected stories have their uses. If you’ve ever read the book The Richest Man in Babylon you should understand the benefit of this approach. Some years ago I produced a script for a play I submitted to a competition and it vanished without trace. I re-wrote the script – it is better but flawed. I have now thought about a project (no clues) re-using that script as a short story, and I’ve found a way round the major flaw! I also wrote a story for a competition which I can now also see the problems with, but I like the title!

Do you have several projects on the go at any one time? Let me know!

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